An eerie emptiness enveloped the sacred Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, where attendance at Friday prayers was hit by measures to protect against the deadly new coronavirus.
Yesterday, it was announced by our new, hijacked Prime Minister that Malaysia is put under restricted movement order beginning today, carrying a few restrictions which included a ban on mass gatherings, closure of business premises (with an exception of essential services), schools, and higher education institutes, and travel ban to and out of the country.
Prior to the announcement, the misinformation that a lockdown will be instated had been making its rounds in Whatsapp groups. People rush to the grocery stores stockpiling on every item they could get their hands on — toilet paper, instant noodle, canned food, and other essentials. In another side of the panic/non-panic spectrum, people talked about going to bars and their favourites restaurants before the order took hold. Some lamented about cancelling their holidays that they have been looking forward to. Some business owner stressed that this is hard for them, and some took to social media to crowdsource answers on the extent of their moral responsibility towards their employees — should we pay their salaries in advance? how do we work from home now? should we put them on unpaid leave? Some went ahead and took initiative to respond in the most humanely way possible, and there might be others who did the same that escaped my attention.
In short, a pandemonium.
I have worked from home for 7 years, yet when it is reframed in this context of virus outbreak right now where you are not to leave home unless absolutely necessary, I couldn’t help feeling much lonelier & overwhelmed than before. I have been on an active job hunt for the past month, making a goal to send one job application every day, but I have been feeling extra sluggish for the last two days that I decided to forgive myself, take things slow, and be reminded that things that are meant for me will never elude me. Every morning, as we deal with this ‘new normal’, the phrase “hi just checking in” had become a dominant theme of all of my chat groups. In most ways, my friends and I are all devastated of the fact that this is the first time we could not help those who more immunosuppressed by being physically closer to them like we often did. I am currently responsible for my elderly mother, and two other elderly aunts who live nearby, but I understand that by going to visit them, I am putting them in a more precarious situation. Despite not showing any symptoms, I could be the vector of the illness and carry on to them, and it hurts me to think I might be indeliberately complicit in the spread. I am also living amidst an interconnected community where there are some elderly people and possibly some other immunocompromised folks living amongst us, so for the first time I decided to join the neighbourhood Whatsapp group so I could lend a (virtual) hand whenever I could.
When I see tweets of people hoarding toilet papers, or lamenting about their cancelled holidays or wedding receptions, I try to see it from the most survivalist perspective rather than the communal view we often strive for. I understand they might be thinking: what will happen is this is the new normal forever? What will happen if our movement is going to be restricted indefinitely? What will happen if our routines and practices that make us who we were before would not return to us? This is why we are still seeing Instagram Stories of our friends going to bars and brunch, captioned “one last time before the lockdown”.
For a lot of people, the fear is much more confounded. Some fear losing their jobs, their family, and the worse, their own lives. Some had already lost one or more than all of these mentioned. I am also thinking of those who couldn’t afford to stay home for various reasons, the frontliners (the retail workers, the health officers, the delivery people etc. absolutely not the politicians!) those who had to work from home out of no choice, those who lost their jobs, those without homes, and also those whose home are not necessarily the safest place to be, among others.
The uncertainty, the what ifs — these are what got some people saying ‘life must go on’, call it what you want — cognitive dissonance, a denial, the new Marshmallow Test — but in truth, this is a society that is scared of its own unravelling and scared that we cannot rebuild it the same way again. And right now, in order to ensure that we do, the only courage we need — more so than licking the toilet seats as part of the coronavirus challenge, more so than brunch — is to stay the fuck home, and let the other people who could not, do their jobs.
When this is all over, where’s one place you can’t wait to go?
Coronavirus related reads:
- Over 24,000 coronavirus research papers are now available in one place.
- If you want to better understand exponential growth, epidemics, and flattening the curve, I suggest for you to watch this explainer video from maths educator Grant Sanderson. “The most important bit is at the end, right around the 7:45 mark, when he talks about how limiting person-to-person exposure and decreasing the probability of exposures becoming infections can have a huge effect on the total number of people infected because the growth is exponential. If large numbers of people start doing things like limiting travel, cancelling large gatherings, social distancing, and washing their hands frequently, the total number of infections could fall by several orders of magnitude, making the exponential work for us, not against us. Small efforts have huge results.”
- Flattening the curve without killing the economy (in Malaysia).
- We need to understand why these early efforts are so vital in flattening the exponential curve so our health care facilities don’t get overwhelmed all at once by a huge spike in cases.
- Cancel everything! “These three facts imply a simple conclusion. The coronavirus could spread with frightening rapidity, overburdening our health-care system and claiming lives, until we adopt serious forms of social distancing.”
- I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care for other people.
- “I don’t feel that great exploiting my child to manipulate my father,” she continued. “But you know, desperate times.” Milennials figured out one effective way to talk to their/our boomer parents about the devastating impacts of coronavirus that they often so nonchalantly dismissed, so I am going to do the same too.
- Interactive chart where you can toggle between “weak quarantine like Italy” and “strong quarantine like South Korea” for your locale (Only US for now).
- Don’t forget to tip service workers well right now — social distancing has real impact for the livelihoods of hourly workers who often don’t have paid sick leave.
- What to do if your anxiety about coronavirus feels overwhelming.
- What would happen if we responded to climate change the way we’re responding to coronavirus?
- How to be a good neighbour right now.
- There is a town of 143 people in Green Bank, West Virginia where cellular signal is blocked and wi-fi is banned due to the presence of the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. Presented with social media and YouTube, one teenager remarks, “Why am I doing this when I could be climbing a tree?” An interesting controlled experiment in how the Internet affects behaviour.
- How to cite like a badass tech feminist of colour.
- Astronomers found 139 more “minor planets” in our solar system.
- “…someone in some future time will think of us.”
- Reading: China Mieville’s The City and the City, and I thought it was also apt to reread Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell.
- Listening: Cooped up in my Covid bunker, I thought it’s the perfect time to make use of my saved recipes — but instead I ended up listening to more cooking podcasts. I am really loving this Splendid Table episode featuring four Persian cooks — Samin Nosrat, Naz Deravian, Najmieh Batmanglij, and Behzad Jamshidi (because I love Persian food), and Samin also just launched her own podcast called Home Cooking where she dispenses tips on cooking during the quarantine and social distancing.
- Viewing: Elite Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix. Perfect time to watch these Spanish beauties while isolating myself.
- Food & Drink: On the third day of self-quarantine, I made fish curry to have with rice. I have a huge tub of vanilla ice-cream, will probably make some affogato later.